Generally, I tend to focus my attention on musicians who live on our lovely sandbar. Primarily on the northern-most reaches of the island, as that’s where I live.
On occasion I will turn my gaze southward and write about some of the able musicians that entertain the visitors and residents on Hatteras Island.
This week, I look north to the bustling metropolis of Coinjock. There I find Skip Hancock, pianist extraordinaire, singer, bandleader, recording artist, sideman and educator at the Naval School of Music.
Many of us on the Banks know him as that guy who plays keyboards with guitarist Joe Mapp. That makes Hancock a “Coordinate.” Mapp’s ensemble is Joe Mapp and the Coordinates, and in his world, there are only a few such beings. Hancock’s fellow Coordinates are drummer and percussionist Dan Martier and bassist Ed Tupper.
Damn good company he keeps.
Hancock has been gigging in the Tidewater region for well over 25 years. Before the coronavirus pandemic popped up and put the big damper on our once busy schedules, you’d find him nearly weekly at Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk, providing chordal backing and blazing, yet tasteful, solos on keyboards.
I had a chance to converse with the erudite Mr. Hancock.
What has been the hardest part of dealing with the pandemic?
The unknowns. When will it be safe, when will I be able to work again, and very bothersome, dealing with people out in public that don’t socially distance or wear masks, either when I go out to buy groceries or play gigs (few though they are).
What have you been doing during the shutdown?
Lots of practice and composing. Lots of work on my property that I haven’t had time for before the pandemic.
What have you missed the most?
Playing jazz with fine players like Joe Mapp, Dan Martier and Ed Tupper on the Outer Banks ; or with my bandmates in Virginia.
What concerns you going ahead?
Besides getting through it safely, the lack of venues to play after it is safe to do so. Many are such small businesses that they may go under. I played many senior residences in Virginia, (30% of my income) and they won’t be back anytime soon. One of them was a Sunday brunch gig I had for 11 years until the pandemic shut it down. Of course, since there are so few gigs right now, my income has dropped to zero in many weeks.
Since Congress, as of this moment has allowed the PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) to lapse, the only money coming in is NC PEA (Pandemic Emergency Assistance), which is the only state benefit for self-employed people, which is $132 a week. Try living on that!
The real conundrum, assuming that Congress reauthorizes the PUA, is that in North Carolina, if you’re self-employed and getting PUA, if you earn more than $156 in a week, the PUA disappears entirely! The benefit is not prorated! From a rational viewpoint, does this make sense?
Since gigs are only coming back slowly, if I play two gigs in one week for say, $250 total, that’s all I have for the entire week. There’s no provision at all for the way work is going to come back. Likely, part time and then, slowly getting back to full time. Or so we all hope. Last year I worked 249 gigs (about five gigs per week) and I made a decent living. Two gigs a week doesn’t pay my bills. So, do I play two gigs a week and starve, or not seek out work and take the PUA until it runs out? (Author’s note: It ran out July 31).
I’ve been a full-time musician for over 30 years. I’ve spent my life honing my craft and making connections with other musicians and venues. I want to work, but right now only a very few gigs are available at all. For all the honking about “getting back to work” in Congress, no one seems to think of compromises for the self-employed that can’t go back to work full time right now.
Is there any music that has helped you get through this?
I have very eclectic tastes for a jazz musician. When I want to really listen to music, classical seems to hold up better overall after repeated plays. Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Holst, Chopin, etc.
What makes you smile or laugh?
Watching behavior in the wildlife in my yard, my cats and my wife.
Who or what keeps you centered?
Nature. No matter what system of belief you may have, it is undeniable proof of that which is larger than self. The closer you look, the more complexity and beauty you see.
What has encouraged you during the pandemic?
The helping hands of those running food banks and free kitchens. I have to admire their dedication and generosity in this time. The heroic work being done in hospitals around the country is more than admirable. Also, the raising of consciousness about racial issues. As a nation we’re taking a long, hard look at issues that have been swept under the rug for far too long. I hope positive change for everyone results in a more balanced future.
What has discouraged you during the pandemic?
Lack of a coherent national response. In the beginning President Trump called it a war, but it seems to be a war in which each state has to fight individually. It’s as if Pearl Harbor happened and each state sent their National Guard to fight separately.
How will you keep yourself safe when work resumes?
I have to watch out for myself of course, but bars and restaurants have to enforce mandates for distancing and mask wearing. People who think that the virus is a myth, the Earth is flat and the moon is made of green cheese have to start obeying the rules, regardless of their beliefs, or we’ll never be out of it until everyone has survived it or died from it.
Are there any new insights you’ve gained or new activities that you’ve engaged in that you’d like to maintain going forward?
I’m more aware of the racial issues than before. Things I didn’t think about because they weren’t in my face every day. Also, new activities and trying to get by on less.